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Offhand hobbit comment inspires prankster philanthropy

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Science fiction writer and professor John Kessel dressed the part when he agreed to see "The Hobbit" in exchange for contributions to a health care fund to benefit struggling writers. (Photo: Josh Shaffer)

Some of the most creative fundraising starts with an offhand remark, perhaps even a sarcastic jab, followed by a classic light bulb moment.

For example, one person – for the sake of argument, let’s say he’s a distinguished professor at NC State – might comment via social media that he considers ecstatic anticipation about The Hobbit : An Unexpected Journey so off-putting that “nobody could pay me enough money to see that movie.” Bemused friends joke that the challenge should be posted on eBay or Kickstarter.

That’s when things clicked for Sam Montgomery-Blinn, who quickly organized an online drive on Bull Spec, a Raleigh-based magazine of speculative fiction. He persuaded his friend, Professor John Kessel, winner of a Nebula Award for science fiction/fantasy writing and a member of the CHASS Department of English, to turn the joke into a serious fundraiser.

If people really are willing to donate to one of his favorite charities just to see him suffer through a big-screen spectacle, Kessel thought, so be it.

“Basically, we indicted him with his own words,” jokes Montgomery-Blinn, who, with Kessel’s blessing, posted an amusing menu of funding options.  All proceeds will benefit the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America Emergency Medical Fund (SFWA).

“I’ve taught The Hobbit many times in my fantasy class, but I’m thinking the movie probably isn’t very good,” Kessel says of the project’s genesis. “I’m kind of a curmudgeon about some things and people are aware of that, but I also have a sense of humor and a commitment to help out when I can.”

Kessel says he chose SFWA because “a lot of freelance writers can’t get medical insurance because they’re self-employed. This fund helps people who need medical care.”

Read the full story about Kessel’s good-natured fundraising in a Philanthropy Journal article by Jill Lucas. News and Observer writer Josh Shaffer also wrote about the prankster philanthropy effort. See his front-page article,  “Hobbit skeptic raises fantasy cash as elfin drag queen.”